Do You Use Swear Words in Your Fiction?

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Do you use swear words, cuss words, or bad words when you write fiction? If you’re writing picture books, no. But as your audience gets older and older, they start to creep into fiction.

Guidelines for Using Swear Words in Fiction

There are a couple schools of thought about using swear words in your fiction.
Do your characters use Swear Words? | DarcyPattison.com

  • Faithful to the Character. Some people would say that it depends on your character. If your character would normally swear, then you must stay true to him/her and allow the words into your fiction. For example, we can all think of an adult who’s a bit of a rogue and just swears habitually. They may be lovable in many ways, except their choice of vocabulary. Or, there are historical characters who absolutely would swear.

    I understand this viewpoint, but it almost seems like the author is saying, “It’s not MY fault that character habitually swears.” But if you’re the author, it IS your fault that you put that character in this book. On the other hand, though, this all smacks of self-censoring, something we all wrestle with.

  • Invented Words. I’ve read a couple fantasy novels this month that used invented swear words for their universe. Here’s a couple I remember:
    “Skies!”
    “Rust!”
    In context, these are probably mild swear words. In the character’s dialogue, the purpose of swear words is to express extreme emotions. Swear words do that with economy, even invented ones. Isn’t that hypocritical, though? The emotions behind real or invented swear words is the same. Within the context of the story, isn’t that invented word just as bad as a real swear word?
  • No Swear Words – ever. I’ve also heard people advocate a total prohibition on swear words in middle grade and young adult novels. The age at which they draw the line varies with fewer swear words for the younger audiences. The comment is usually that as an intelligent author, you should be able to express the appropriate emotions without resorting to swear words. I understand this one, too. Usually, there are alternate ways to express the emotions, often more powerful ways when the event is fleshed out. However, swear words are that convenient shortcut to emotions. Sometimes, you don’t have the space to flesh out the emotions.
  • I don’t have any answers. Just questions and issues to raise.

    Personally, I’d love to ban all swear words from adults! But swear words are a shortcut to emotions, and I understand when people swear, even if I don’t like it. In my own fiction, I’d rather invent a swear word than use a popular swear word; but beyond that, I’d rather take the time to dramatize the emotions than to use even an invented swear word. The shortcut of swear words isn’t worth it to me. Instead, I’ll just work harder to convey one of these 63 emotions without swear words.

    Set Your Own Boundaries

    In the end, I think each author must decide what line to draw in the sand. The key thing to remember is that words have impact. An apt word especially has a HUGE IMPACT. This video expresses it in a unique way.


    If you can’t see this video, click here.

    So, do you use swear words in your fiction? Do you self-censor when you allow those words into your story? Where do you stand on the Swear Words continuum?

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